How to Land Your First Internship with a Small Business

so you can create a career you love

One of the best things I did for myself in college was land my first internship with a small business. Looking back, it led to so many opportunities that wouldn’t have existed if I had interned with a major company. In fact, I loved interning with small businesses so much, I decided to work for one full-time!

Why am I such a proponent of small business internships? Personally, I struggled to find opportunities that allowed me to use my analytical skills and help me cultivate more creativity. Being with a small business afforded me the flexibility to use a variety of skills. It also helped me discover talents I wouldn’t have known about if I had interned elsewhere.

Whether you’re hoping to work for a major company or you’re looking to be an entrepreneur yourself, I believe starting your career with a small business is a great way to dip your toes into an industry you’re excited about and ultimately, work a job you love. In this post, I’m going to share why you should look into one, how to land one, and what to expect out of your experience. Keep scrolling!

2016: My First Internship with Oh! Fox + House of Margot Blair

Reasons to pursue a small business internship:

  1. Great networking opportunities and great mentors: Not saying you won’t get this at an internship with a large company, but from what I’ve witnessed, many small business owners became entrepreneurs because they had a genuine interest in creating a career they love. If you’re seeking a mentor who genuinely cares about what they do, look to a small business owner. Many are eager to help because they know their businesses wouldn’t have survived without the help of their mentors. Plus, they’re likely to connect you with other entrepreneurs, so you can develop great relationships and possible opportunities afterward.
  2. Test your skills and learn new ones: Many people are surprised I didn’t stick with my track have a future career in engineering. In college, I was eager to find a job that allowed me to merge my background in STEM with my creative interests. Most of the ones I found were very specific in the tasks they wanted their interns to do. Many small business owners are similar, but they tend to be a bit more flexible. After you nail the things they want you to do, many of them will allow you to pitch in and help with other things if you express interest.
  3. You’re more likely to get a “yes”: Many small businesses are eager for help. Even if you don’t feel 100% confident in your skills or what value you can offer, most small businesses are just looking for a genuine interest in their line of work and a great work ethic. Working the internship will help you discover your unique skills and talents.
2017: My First Part-Time Job with May Designs

How to land your internship:

Pick a small business you’re genuinely interested in

  • If you want to create a career you truly love, I recommend choosing an industry you’re actually excited to learn about. When I was in school, I thought I wanted to be a professional baker, a designer, a florist, so I used my time outside of classes to find opportunities in those areas and tried most of them!

Get all your things in order

  • Prepare multiple resumes: By this, I don’t mean copies of the same resume (although that’s important when you’re interviewing!) I mean multiple versions of a resume. When I was interning, I created a resume for design work, food work, and engineering work so only experience relevant to that industry was available to the potential employer. It’s extra work, but it’s worth it. If this is your first internship, that’s okay. Put down relevant projects and interest groups you’ve participated in or held leadership positions for. If you’re looking to make a well-designed resume efficiently, I highly recommend Canva for lots of templates you can try for free.
  • Keep your LinkedIn updated: If you don’t have an account already, go make one. Upload a clear, up-to-date photo of yourself, plug in your relevant experience, make friends. Just do it. If you want to learn more, I also talk about this in the 5 Things I Always Tell Graduating College Seniors.
  • Make a list of small businesses you love: If there are entrepreneurs you admire or small businesses that resonate with you, jot them down on a list. Use it as a resource, so you can start reaching out to people and make notes about where you are in the process.

Start Reaching Out!

  • Get in the mindset to be courageous: If there aren’t any opportunities, create one for yourself. No one can read your mind. No one can help you if you don’t ask, so put yourself out there and remember that rejection might be part of the process. Try not to be discouraged if/when someone says “no”. I’ve personally experienced “no” so many times – a little more on this for a future date.
  • Make a new connection: “Networking” can be a very daunting word if it’s not something you’re comfortable with. I like to think of it as making a new connection or even a new friend. Meet a friend of a friend, go to networking opportunities offered outside your school, DM small businesses on Instagram, keep an eye out on social media for internship availabilities. If they have a storefront, go visit them in person and say hello.
  • Ask for available opportunities: I’ve typically said things along the lines of:

    “Hi there! My name is Sarah and I’m a first-year engineering student at The University of Texas at Austin. I’m really interested in a career that allows me to equally creative and analytical, and I’m looking for an internship this semester or this summer. Have you taken interns before or do you possibly have any intern spots available?”

Here’s how you can ask, short & sweet:

How to Ask For an Internship with a Small Business - TheBellaInsider.com

Even if it’s a “no”, most people are very nice and will genuinely try to help by asking you more questions or referring you to a friend. If it’s a “yes”, a “I haven’t considered that before”, or a “maybe”, carry on the conversation and ask,

“May I possibly have your contact information? I’m happy to provide a resume or you can take a look at my LinkedIn.”

They’ll most likely give you an email. Be sure to follow up, express your interest again in written form and wait a few days for a reply. If they don’t respond in a week, follow up and ask again. If you don’t hear from them again, don’t be defeated. Try again with another small business owner.

Things you probably won’t get with a small business internship:

  • A formal internship or mentorship program: Many internships at larger companies offer perks like mentorship programs, moving bonuses, and formal training days. If you’re with a small business, you’ll need to have a conversation with your employer about offerings and expectations.
  • A guarantee to be employed full-time: Most small businesses aren’t looking as far in advance as your graduation date. If you’re looking to be employed full-time after your internship, I’d make sure to be very clear of your intentions. Be sure to discuss them in your initial conversations so you can find the right fit.

If you’re in school, let me know if you found this helpful or if you have questions. If you’re a small business owner, what are you looking for in your dream interns?

Welcome to The Bella Insider! Here you'll find advice, inspiration, and favorite finds for the college student, new graduate, or young working professional who's seeking to build a life using their unique talents & skills.

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